Chinese officials allegedly pay workers a pittance to make gloves, socks and other apparel.
By Shohret Hoshur
A worker gathers cotton yarn at a textile manufacturing plant, as seen during a government-organized trip for foreign journalists, in Aksu, northwestern China's Xinjiang region, April 20, 2021.
Hundreds of family members of detained Uyghur residents of a small community in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region have been forced to work in local government-run factories, a source with knowledge of the situation and a local police officer said.
At least 100 residents from Sheyih Mehelle hamlet in Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) county have been imprisoned by authorities, a security guard from the area told RFA in an earlier report. The hamlet has a population of more than 700 people and is part of Cholunqay village, which has more than 10,000 residents.
Authorities have been transporting their relatives, mostly women and some elderly men, by bus to the factories where they work 10-12 hours a day under the watch of staff assigned to oversee them, a source familiar with the situation said.
During the first two years of the detentions from 2017 to 2019, Chinese authorities forced the family members of those who had been incarcerated or taken to internment camps to attend political study sessions, the source said. But in the last three years, they have forced the hamlet residents to work in factories for monthly wages of 1,000-2,000 yuan (U.S. $157-$314).
China is believed to have held 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim Turkic minorities in the camps since 2017. Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has mistreated Muslims living in the region.
Authorities take the family members to factories in Yamachang on the outskirts of Ghulja city, a police officer in Cholunqay village said.
“There are around 500 people working in that [place]. … There are factories there that make clothes, socks and gloves,” he said.
RFA previously reported that Yamachang comprised more than 20 internment camps set up in 2017 and 2018.
The officer, who said he did not know if the residents were paid for their work, told RFA that government officials are assigned to take the families of the detainees to the complex at 6 a.m. The residents are returned to the hamlet at 6 p.m. so they can take care of their children and elderly parents.
Besides the mostly women and a few elderly men who work at the complex, at least one ill resident has been forced to work there, he said.
“They are mostly women and elderly,” he said. “There’s even one who is always ill.
“They have school-age kids, and some have elderly to take care at home,” he said. “That’s why they are brought back in the evening.”
Some of the hamlet residents are also working in factories in Aruz farm field, the police officer said.
The Chinese women’s affairs director in Cholunqay village said that people who have “graduated from re-education” are among the laborers who work in the factories in Yamachang and at the Aruz farm fields.
Gulzire Awulqanqizi, an ethnic Kazakh Muslim who was held at the Dongmehle Re-education Camp in Ili Kazakh (in Chinese, Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Ghulja city from July 2017 to October 2018, told RFA that after her release, she had been forced to work at a glove factory in the Aruz farm fields.
The woman, who now lives in the U.S. state of Virginia, said authorities transported her by bus from her dormitory to the factory, where she received only 600 yuan a month for her work. When she returned home at the end of the day, she had to undertake political studies and was subjected to police interrogations.
“We went to work from 7 a.m. onwards, and we had 40 minutes for lunch,” she said. “After the factory work, we went to our dormitories.”
Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.